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Monday, June 29, 2009

ALSO OUT THERE

Fun and fashionable rubber boots help shake off rainy season gloom


Staff writer

Rainy days can be a downer, especially for women who want to look fashionable but don't want to get wet in soggy and gloomy weather.

News photo
Sung and dry: Colorful water-resistant boots are displayed in the main shoe section at the Mitsukoshi department store in Nihonbashi, Tokyo. NATSUKO FUKUE PHOTO

Answering this dilemma, colorful and stylish water-resistant boots have grown increasingly popular in urban areas, especially in the last year.

Water-resistant rubber boots, called "nagagutsu" in Japanese, have long been a fixture with children, farmers and construction workers, but not among fashion-conscious young women.

Since around last year, however, colorful rubber boots have taken off, prompting major department stores in Tokyo to take them out of the practical rain-gear aisle and move them to the ladies' fashion section.

The new water-resistant boots are stylish and easy to match with clothes, says Miho Ishiguro, a 28-year-old company employee in Tokyo who bought a pair last autumn. Thanks to their popularity and wide variety, "I have a lot to choose from," she says.

Mitsukoshi department stores set up special displays last year for colorful water-repellent boots in their main shoe sections. The boots used to be displaced in the rainwear section, and the new approach is boosting sales.

"We sold 64 boots in our Nihonbashi store alone" in two weeks, said Takaaki Sendoda, who works in the Mitsukoshi sales division, pointing to the most popular artificial leather water-resistant boots. At ¥16,800 a pair, the fashionable boots are affordable, coming in at less than ¥20,000, he said.

The trend toward stylish water-resistant boots was first triggered by Hollywood celebrities, said Tatsuya Kajiyama of Blue Dun, a shop in Shinjuku Ward, Tokyo, that imports rubber boots.

The colorful boots really took off with young women since around 2007 when magazines featured Hollywood stars wearing Hunter boots, a traditional brand made in Scotland.

Hunter boots, running ¥9,240 to ¥72,450, grabbed the heart of Japanese women in their 20s who wanted to look trendy and keep their feet dry, Kajiyama said. This despite the fact that Hunter boots "were originally for hunting and gardening in the countryside," he said.

According to Sendoda, the current crop of water-resistant boots come in a wide variety of colors and patterns, and at Mitsukoshi's Nihonbashi branch, boots with button and marble patterns are popular.

"Previously, the key concept of selling rubber boots was 'nonslippery,' for example," he said, noting the focus was on practicality. "But now, the concept has changed to 'fun and fashionable.' "

Judging from sales data at Mitsukoshi stores across the country, the new nagagutsu, now called "rein butsu" (rain boots), seem to be have caught the fancy of working women in big cities who have to walk outside for short distances, he said.

Fumi Kono, a 27-year-old conference organizer in Tokyo, has to walk several minutes between home and station and office, which is a good reason to buy the boots, she said. She likes them because they are both fashionable and practical.

"I also decided to buy them because the street in front of my company was flooded when there was a sudden heavy rain last year," she added.

The boots are also good for snow, Ishiguro, the 28-year-old company employee, said.

"I can wear them both on rainy and snowy days. And they are as warm as winter boots."

She said she's going to get another pair because they are available at a more affordable price of around ¥4,000 online.

But even if the boots are practical, Kono said women are comfortable wearing them because they are widely popular. "I wouldn't wear them if it wasn't the trend."

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